Afghan Women to NATO: Don’t Bargain Our Rights Away

afghan women at school

Afghan teacher Meher Afroza with her students at an Islamic school in Kabul. Under the Taliban, few girls attended school. Today 3 million girls go to school, and 20 percent of university of graduates are women. (Photo: ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

World leaders, dignitaries and reporters will convene in Chicago next week for the 2012 NATO summit, and among the urgent questions they will consider is that of Afghanistan’s future after the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops.

Yet Afghanistan’s female leaders were denied a place at the table for these critical discussions—despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise that the United States would not forsake the rights of Afghan women.

Indeed, recent developments signal that the significant but tenuous gains Afghan women have made over the past decade are mere bargaining chips in negotiations between U.S., Afghan and Taliban leaders seeking to expedite the transition to Afghan rule. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has proposed a program of “reintegration and reconciliation” with the Taliban that holds grim implications for women and girls, and in March he briefly endorsed an edict issued by a council of clerics that would allow husbands to beat their wives in certain situations and encourage gender segregation in workplaces and schools.

amnesty bus shelter afghan women

One of our ads in Chicago in time for the NATO summit

Thankfully, Afghan women refuse to be silenced. As the NATO summit begins next week, two prominent women leaders, Afifa Azim, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Network, and Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, will take part in Amnesty International’s May 20 Shadow Summit for Afghan Women, in Chicago. They will not only raise their voices in defense of women’s rights, they will argue that the full political, economic and social participation of women in Afghan society is vital to lasting peace.

Nargis Nehan, head of Equality for Peace and Democracy in Kabul, told NPR:

“We know how to communicate with the rest of the world, and we do have our own constituencies within Afghanistan—not only women, but also men.”

This generation of Afghan women leaders have finished school, graduated from university and won 27 percent of the seats in parliament in 2010. They have spoken to the international media and appealed to the U.N. Security Council to defend hard-won human rights advances—including a new law prohibiting violence against women,  early and forced marriage, and the deprivation of access to property, education or healthcare.

The question of history is a thorny one for the United States as it prepares its exit from a decade-long military intervention that has “quagmired” two administrations. But the Obama administration must not submit to political expediency and allow the Afghan government’s overtures to the Taliban and other insurgent groups to threaten women’s rights. At this critical moment, Afghan women desperately need us to stand with them to make sure that their rights are not swallowed up by the quicksand of transitional politics.

Sign our action: Women’s rights are non-negotiable in Afghanistan

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8 thoughts on “Afghan Women to NATO: Don’t Bargain Our Rights Away

  1. this is a disgrace. I can't give money again to amnesty whilst it supports imperialism

  2. This is a very difficult situation,on one had we should all be opposed to any form of occupation,and on the other hand we know very well what the effects of the Taliban coming into power will be.A few things we as Americans should think about. First, we are not there to protect women s rights nor do we care for it,that is amply demonstrated by our actions around the world. Secondly, it is important for us to hear what AFGHAN women want and desire, not some Afghan refugee living in London or the US. The people at stake are the women within the country. We are occupiers therefore we have no rights, only responsibilities and that is to listen to the Afghan people,period. I understand Michael's concern, but I suggest a nation-wide referendum in which all of Afghans decide there own destiny.

  3. This is a very difficult situation,on one had we should all be opposed to any form of occupation,and on the other hand we know very well what the effects of the Taliban coming into power will be.A few things we as Americans should think about. First, we are not there to protect women s rights nor do we care for it,that is amply demonstrated by our actions around the world. Secondly, it is important for us to hear what AFGHAN women want and desire, not some Afghan refugee living in London or the US. The people at stake are the women within the country. We are occupiers therefore we have no rights, only responsibilities and that is to listen to the Afghan people,period. I understand Michael's concern, but I suggest a nation-wide referendum in which all of Afghans decide there own destiny.

  4. So r u admitting that Taliban is NOT against womens education at all — all that they want is "no co-education"? because u said the Taliban wants to "encourage gender segregation in workplaces and schools.", not banning womens education all-together.

    I live in Berkeley California and a few miles away there is Mills College – an all-women college. Is that "encourage gender segregation in workplaces and schools."?

  5. Who is this Nargis Nehan? Someone in a corrupt government gravy train job I'll bet. Why didn't AI offer the speaker role to an authentic Afghan feminist like Malalai Joya? Someone who's actually fought for women's rights against all odds (and is still fighting), and who's also not an apologist for the regime?